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How To Remove Coffee Table Rings

How To Remove Coffee Table Rings

We’ve all been there. You forget to put a coaster down on your coffee table when you’re drinking a glass of water, a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine. You leave it there for a little while, and now you have a ring stained into your wooden coffee table. 

It’s an annoying problem that happens to all of us at some point or another. But how do you clean up these coffee table rings? Is there any way to remove these stains? Will they be there forever? You love your coffee table and want it to last.

Lucky for us, there is a solution to the eternal problem of drink rings. With proper cleaning, these bad boys will come right off. Keep reading to find out how to do it yourself.

Why Do Water Rings Form?

In order to understand how to best clean these rings off your table, it’s super helpful to know where they come from. Know your enemy, right? So let’s talk about how these annoyances make their way onto your table. 


The truth is, these stains aren’t from your dark wine or coffee. They’re not burn marks from a mug or dish that was too hot. In actuality, they’re simply moisture that has been trapped inside the wood’s finish. 

When moisture gets into the finish, the result is a white-looking ring or mark that stares you right in the eye as if guilting you about not using a coaster. 

Cold Drinks

This can happen in one of two ways. For starters, cold glasses have a habit of getting a lot of condensation on them. Every southern sweet tea drinker knows that when you put ice in a glass, the outside of the glass gets wet. 

The difference between the warm air and the cold temperature of the glass causes the moisture in the air to condense. If this happens enough (and it always does), the moisture will drip down the side of the glass and collect at the bottom. People often refer to this as “drinks sweating.”

If the wood is exposed to this direct moisture, the moisture is pushed into the table by the glass resting there. The water is bound to get into the finish of the wood and leave behind that pesky mark.

Hot Drinks

Rings can also come from hot drinks and cups. The marks that come from these sources are not the result of condensation. They have a bit of a different source. 

Think back to your high school physics or chemistry class (it might be a painful memory, but just go with it). One of the first things you learn in these classes is that heat causes things to expand. Heat is energy, and energized molecules spread further apart, plain and simple. 

This goes for wood too. When you place a hot cup of coffee or tea on wood, it causes the pores of the wood to open up and expand. Even if the wood is sealed with a finish, these pores can still open. Opened pores allow moisture from the air and steam from the cup to get into the surface. 

Although the process is slightly different than with cold glasses, the end result is the same: a white ring created by moisture trapped in the finish. 

So How Do I Clean Them Off?

Before you start sanding the finish off of your table or even buy a new table, there are a few tricks to try to see if you can get these rings off the coffee table (or any wooden accent furniture, for that matter). It’s time to go back to enjoying that beautiful, spotless surface

Method 1: Bring the Heat

It might seem strange, but sometimes the best solution to white rings caused by heat is actually more heat. Moisture is trapped inside the pores of the finish and the wood. So if you use some dry heat to open those pores again, you give the moisture a chance to get the heck out of there. 

There are a few ways to get this done. First, try a simple hair dryer. Place it on the low heat setting and point it right at the stain.

Stay a few inches away from the table to make sure you don’t damage it. Use a side-to-side motion, and in a few minutes, the stain should be completely gone: no elbow grease required. 

If that tactic doesn’t get the job done, you could also try an iron. Get a clean, dry towel and place it on top of the stain.

Now break out your iron and put it on the lowest heat setting, making sure not to use any steam. Move the iron back and forth across the towel for a few minutes. Check every so often to see if the stain is gone. 

Again, do not use any steam with the iron. If you do, you’ll end up with a giant white blob instead of just a white ring.

Method 2: The Mayonnaise Method

If the first method seemed a bit strange, this one is going to look downright crazy. But it’s true, mayonnaise (yes, the sandwich condiment) works great at removing white rings from wooden coffee tables. Sandwiches, chicken salad, cleaning tables, is there anything this condiment can’t do?

The reason this works is because of the natural oils found in mayonnaise. These oils are quite dense, so they’re able to naturally penetrate the finish of the wood, allowing the moisture to escape. 

To do this, check that the stain is completely dry and apply a small amount of mayonnaise to the ring. Let it sit there for a few hours or overnight, and when you wake up, get a rag and buff the mayonnaise a bit and wipe it away. The white ring should be completely gone.

Method 3: The Toothpaste Trick

Yet another strange method, but believe it or not, toothpaste also removes water stains from coffee tables. It might feel odd, but it’s better than spending a bunch of money on an expensive wood cleaner or polish. 

For this to work, you’ll need a specific type of toothpaste. You need plain, white toothpaste with no whitening properties and no gel in it. Get the bare-bones for this one. The alkaline properties in the toothpaste help to gently lift the stain out of the wood, and it works wonders.

Make a thick paste using one part toothpaste and two parts baking soda. Put your mixture on the stain, making sure to only apply to the stained area. Let it sit on the stain for a couple of minutes, and wipe it away. You might need to repeat these steps a few times, but before long, the stain should disappear before long. 

Method 4: If All Else Fails

Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned methods are completely foolproof. Sometimes, if the stain has been on the table for a very long time, there’s no way to clean it off. In cases like this, it’s time to break out the sandpaper and get to work. 

To get this stain off, strip the wood of its finish and completely resurface it. This doesn’t work if you just try it in one area. That one area will look completely different than the rest of the table.

Break out your sandpaper (it works best if you have a tool like an orbital sander) and sand the table down until the finish is gone and the bare wood is exposed. Sand down the stained area to make sure the stain is completely removed, and then grab your new finish and apply it. 

Of course, you might not want to go through all of this effort, and we don’t blame you. You can always take it to a furniture repairer, and they can take care of it for you to make sure the job is done right.

The Final Step

There you have it, a nice spotless coffee table. After any of these methods, if the finish doesn’t quite look the same after cleaning, don’t fret.

You can polish your wood to get it looking brand new again. Simply mix equal parts white vinegar and olive oil, take a rag, apply the mixture to the wood, and buff it. This will give your wood a bit of protection and a bit of shine.

But before you celebrate, you still have one final step you need to take: preventative measures. It’s time to buy some coasters for the coffee table. 

Coasters are simple yet wonderful things that protect your table from your drinks. Ensure you have a good supply of them on hand and out in the open so people can see them. The best way to clean a stain is by preventing it from happening in the first place. 

A Clean, Ring-less Table

Now you know everything you need to know about getting those pesky white rings off of your furniture. One final tip: if you notice a ring on your table, clean it quickly. The longer you let it sit, the more difficult it will be to remove. So get out there, clean up your tables, and enjoy your furniture

For more information about furniture, bedding, and interior design, head to eLuxury.


Cleaning, Repairing and Reconditioning Wood Furniture | Utah State University

Why Do Some Drinks Sweat? | Wonderopolis

Heat energy | Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao

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